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Sunday, December 27, 2009

The BBC and the Church of England have one problem in common

These institutions are different in many ways, most importantly being that the BBC is reasonably popular and is funded by a mandatory tax. The Church of England is in decline and has to appeal to its followers for its funds.

The National Centre for Social Research is publishing research in Jan that describes a large proportion of Brits as the “fuzzy faithful” who have a vague belief in God but do not necessarily belong to a particular denomination or attend services.

Just 50% of Brits now call themselves Christian, down from 66% in 1983.

The proportion of Britons who say they have “no religion” has increased in this period by 12%. Non-Christians, including Muslims and Jews, now represent 7% of the population, up from 2%, 25 years ago.

The steepest fall was among those who say they worship in the established religion. The Church of England, is down to less than a quarter of population (23%).The study suggests that the decline in faith is largely attributable to children no longer being brought up in a particular religion. The research found that two non-religious parents successfully transmit their lack of religion. Two religious parents have roughly a 50/50 chance of passing on the faith.

Not only are the numbers of parishioners in decline but they are more likely to hold onto their hard earned dosh. Churchgoers are currently donating £520m whereas the desired figure is in the region of £860m.

One thing the BBC and Church of England have in common is the age profile of their ‘audience’.

As can be seen from the Tearfund analysis, churchgoers are old and getting older. The pretty graphs can be downloaded from the WhyChurch web site.

Whilst the over 65s make up just one in ten of the population, they account for nearly a third of the BBC's audience and they watch and listen to a lot more programming than younger people.

So there you are - your audiences are slowly fading away (dieing), what do you do? The knee jerk reaction is to make your core proposition more ‘friendly’ and attractive to younger people. But here is the rub, by doing that you risk alienating your existing older, committed audience. This is a classical marketing problem.

How well both organisations are tackling this conundrum is an open question. The BBC has a lot more opportunities to direct its programming down age specific channels, but even here it seems embarrassed to have an aggregate older audience. When you visit the section of its web site that is about its audiences it recognises those who are retired and the next youngest age group is ‘Families’ that it seems to define as being people in their 30s.

This Xmas I have been really surprised how many of my friends and acquaintances (in their 50s and 60s), who have been lifelong churchgoers have decided not go to a Xmas service. They all state the same reason. I paraphrase the message: “Their local vicar has dumbed down the service to make it appeal to Yoof.”

As an atheist I cannot give a first hand opinion, but my occasional dealings with the church make me think that it has fallen into a terrible trap of trying too hard to make ‘accessible’ its preaching that simultaneously turns off its older parishioners and appears meaningless and insipid to its targeted younger audience. The Church of England should make 2010 the year of age-neutral religion. So end the sermon. Dick Stroud

1 comment:

GeriCareFinder said...

It is interesting to see that fewer younger people are attending church services. I am sure that this will change alot about the church and its services.